Food giants promote own food labelling system£4 million campaign backs rival to official scheme

03 January 2007

Leading UK food and drink firms are putting millions behind a marketing blitz to explain their own nutrition labelling scheme condemned by health campaigners.

The new £4 million campaign supports a labelling scheme which goes against the official food watchdog's own system.

The GDA (Guideline Daily Amount) food labelling scheme favoured by the coalition of manufacturers and retailers is harder to understand than the Food Standards Agency ‘traffic light’ labels, according to Which? research.

Traffic light labels are colour-coded to show high, medium and low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

The scheme - which is supported by Which? - has split the food industry with 23 food companies, including Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, and Tesco, opting to use the GDA system instead.

Shoppers 'put off by red lights'

They say the traffic light system puts shoppers off buying products that carry even one red-coloured symbol.

Which? chief food policy advisor Sue Davies said: ‘Are retailers and manufacturers shying away from using simple, easy-to-interpret colours because they’re scared to be upfront about the fat, sugar and salt levels in their products? 

‘Instead of spending £4 million to explain a labelling scheme to consumers, why not just use a scheme that’s easy to understand in the first place?

‘Many of us shop in a hurry and don’t have time to examine the nutrition information panel in detail. Clear, traffic light colours on the front of packs are crucial. We urge manufacturers and retailers to adopt traffic light labels to show consumers the way to quick and easy healthy food choices’

The publicity campaign starts on Monday with TV and print adverts and could go head-to-head with a Food Standards Agency campaign promoting traffic light labels.

The Food Standards Agency's traffic lights scheme is backed by Sainsbury's, Waitrose, the Co-op, M&S and Asda.

The National Heart Forum, which represents 50 charities working to reduce heart disease, said the food industry's backing of GDA labels was an attempt to derail the Food Standards Agency's scheme.

Sir Alexander Macara, chair of the NHF, said: ‘It's both disappointing and somewhat surprising that the food industry has done this, especially as it professes to cooperate fully with government and has been involved throughout the process of the development of the FSA labelling scheme.

'Flawed conversion to health labelling'

‘This is a flawed conversion to health labelling and a blatant move by the food industry to do what suits them, not their customers, best.’

Independent Food Standards Agency research has shown traffic light labels were easier for consumers to understand.

These findings are backed by Which?’s own research which has found that 50 per cent of people were able to correctly identify the levels of four key nutrients (fat, saturates, sugar and salt) using multiple traffic lights compared with just five per cent using the manufacturers’ GDA scheme.